Did you know that rats make lovely pets? People have kept rats as pets since the 1800s. Also known as domestic rats, they are as different from wild rats as dogs are from wolves. Some domestic rats are bred to specific standards and are known as “fancy rats.” That said, there are even rat shows that are similar to dog shows and cat shows.
The Intelligent Pet: Rats
The question on most people’s minds is usually, “How intelligent are rats?” Rats’ intelligence is spread across a range just like any other animal. At a minimum, most rats will bond with you, interact with you, and learn to respond to your voice, their name, or other calling sounds. Many rats, with the utmost attention from their owners, can be litter-box trained.
You can train your rat to do simple tricks with consistent use of positive rewards. Using tricks that build on your rat’s natural inclinations makes it easier for them to learn. However, you shouldn’t limit yourself to this rule since rats are curious, agile creatures. Some rats have even learned to play a miniature version of basketball.
Different Types of Pet Rats
To get us started, what is a fancy rat? A fancy rat is a domesticated brown rat. You can differentiate them by their coat colors, coat type, eye color, and body type. Rats that aren’t specifically bred to be “fancy” can be defined in these ways too.
Some rats with white coats are albinos. When an animal has albinism, they have white or whitish skin or fur. They often have red eyes and are sensitive to light. Although albinism is rare, you will encounter an unusually high number of albino rats because of their history.
Most albino rats descend from laboratory rats. In the past, scientists used albino lab rats to reduce genetic variation that might affect study results. Many of these lab rats found their way home to live as pets of scientists who grew fond of them. As domestic rats’ nature became better understood, many old studies proved to be flawed since they were kept in stressful conditions.
Stress has a strong influence on the health of rats, just as it does in humans. Although rats still actively participate in scientific experiments, the nature of many of these experiments has changed. Studies like the famous “hide and seek” experiment are now standard, while other experiments focus on rats’ intelligence and social interactions.
On the other hand, some white rats are simply black-eyed rats with white coats. They are less common than albino rats but no less appealing or intelligent. White rats that do not have albinism are more likely to result from selective pairing by rat breeders.
Pet Rat Coat and Color Variations
Rats can have a variety of coat types. Standard coats are short, straight, and shiny, which is common in pet store rats. Rats can also have rex, satin or bristle-coat fur, or even be hairless.
Rats with rex coats have curly hair and whiskers. Meanwhile, rats with satin coats have longer and shinier fur than the standard ones. Bristle coat rats have short, coarse fur, while hairless rats have none at all, as the name implies.
Rats with a solid coat of any color other than white are called “self” rats. They can have solid black, brown, gray, or more unusual coat colors, like mink, blue or champagne.
Pet rats can also have flecked brown fur like their wild cousins. This color is called “agouti” (pronounced ah-goo-tee). Most other flecked coat colors are variations on the agouti type, but with reddish or blue-ish base colors rather than brown. There are also flecked coat rats with silver-tipped fur.
Hooded rats have light-colored fur on their bodies but have a darker shade on their heads. They may also have stripes or spots of dark fur running down their backs and bellies. Breeders further differentiate these markings as caped, bareback, hooded, spotted (or dalmatian), and blazed.
There are rats with dark-colored bodies and white bellies, while others have coloring similar to Siamese cats. Roan rats have markings identical to those of sugar gliders and can have various base coat colors. Seasoned breeders can tell the originating lineage of numerous coat colors and types and even know which genetic alleles cause variations.
The American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association (AFRMA) breaks categories of markings down further. Breeders often use the AFRMA definitions for coat colors.
Pet Rat Body Types
Fancy rats come in various body types: tailless, jumbo, and dwarf rats. All of these rats have body types that resemble what the name implies. Typical dwarf rats will stay small but proportional. They, too, will need cages as big as standard size rats, maybe even more prominent. Dwarf rats are known for their unusually high energy levels.
Dumbo rats have big, round ears set on the sides of their heads, and are often chubbier than other rats. Rats can be hairless, tailless, dwarf, or standard-sized and still be dumbos. Many rat lovers say dumbo rats as pets are the sweetest, calmest variation. Their round bodies and prominent ears can make them a perfect pet for people who want a pet rat but don’t find standard rats appealing
If you’ve been wondering, “How big do pet rats get?” We’ve got you covered! Most rats grow to about 6 to 10 inches tall, while their tails add another 7 to 9 inches. A dwarf rat will be smaller by a third, with a body length ranging between 3 and 5 inches. A rat can also be “jumbo,” but they don’t exceed 10 inches in body length.
Baby rats are called kits or kittens. A good breeder can predict what your kit will look like as an adult. Most pet store rats will reach a standard size. If you have an opportunity to choose, it all boils down to preference, with the caveat that a tailless rat will not be as agile or well-balanced as rats with tails.
Training and Caring for Pet Rats
Rats are easy to take care of. They need a large cage, clean water, and healthy food. Rats are sturdy creatures, but like all small animals, you will need to handle them carefully. Scoop up your rats when you want to pet them. Never grab your rats. Remember that rats are very smart and can learn to come and climb into your hand when called.
Litter training with some rats is as simple as putting a tray in the location they have already chosen. Some rats, however, are quite challenging to train. Nonetheless, litter training will be more manageable if you put a clean, smooth, small rock in their litter pan. The stone goes by the term “pee rock” since your rat will instinctively urinate on it.
Cages and Bedding
Rat cages should have wire bars for aeration and preventing your rats from chewing holes in their cage. The bars should be less than 1/2 inch apart. Many breeders are happy to share cage recommendations that include thoughts on size, layout, and cleaning ease.
Most people believed that rat cages should not have wire floors because the bars could cause ulcers on a rat’s feet – a condition called “bumblefoot. ” Experienced rat-keepers now know that if the cage is kept clean and dry, and the rats have flat, solid surfaces to climb or rest, a wire floor will not damage a rat’s feet.
You can purchase rat bedding made from shredded paper or wood from a pet store. It would be best if you avoided pine and cedar chips as rats have sensitive sinuses and shouldn’t be exposed to strong scents from their bedding or elsewhere. If your rats are not litter box trained, you should remove soiled bedding and replace it with clean bedding weekly.
If a cage starts smelling of ammonia, this is a clear indicator that it has been too long since the last cleaning session. It would be best to immediately change your rats’ bedding and thoroughly clean the cage with hot water. You can also incorporate a gentle detergent. However, it’s crucial to rinse it off as soon as you finish cleaning. Thorough cage cleaning will ensure your rats stay healthy.
Some rat owners use fleece bedding. One benefit of fleece is that it is less messy than shredded paper or wood. Fleece bedding needs to be kept clean and dry, just like any other bedding. However, fleece is best for rats that are already litter trained. On the flip side, if your rat loves chewing on things, fleece may not be the right fit for them.
Another approach to finding the best bedding material is using a bioactive substrate similar to wild rats’. If you choose this approach, proceed with expert direction to keep your rats safe. Some owners use a semi-bioactive process that uses safe potted plants placed inside the cage for ease of cleaning. This method results in a bio-active substrate without the cleaning challenges of a cage tray filled with soil.
Regardless of the type of bedding you choose, your rats might seem worried when they go back into a clean cage. After all, their food stashes are gone. This is normal, and the rats will calm down as soon as they find the fresh food you have provided.
Keeping Your Rats Happy and Healthy
Although rat food is available at pet stores, rats can also eat human food. If it’s healthy for you to eat, it is probably healthy for your rats. Supplementing their diet with nuts, blueberries, garbanzo beans, and fresh vegetables can help your rats stay healthy. Tiny animal vets can provide you with feeding recommendations. Besides, many breeders post their home-made fresh-food rat recipes online.
Rats need regular access to clean drinking water. Water bowls don’t work well because they are easily soiled and knocked over. Hanging water bottles are best for rats. You can use a bowl to serve your rat food. Ensure that you keep it clean and give your rats fresh food daily. Although rats don’t eat all day, it’s okay to leave the food bowl in the cage.
Most rats enjoy being held and petted, much like a dog or cat. They are very social and ideally prefer to stay in pairs. That said, it’s critical to ensure you have two males or two females, so you don’t end up with a case of overbreeding.
Though it might be challenging to differentiate males from female kits, experienced breeders can easily make this determination. Additionally, by the time a rat is six weeks old, the difference between males and females becomes visible. Most pet stores will not sell rats younger than five or six weeks old.
A pet rat lifespan ranges between 1.5 and 3 years, with 2 to 2.5 years being the most common range. With excellent care, luck, and a healthy lineage, some rats can live up to four or five years. However, you shouldn’t blame yourself if your beloved pet only lives for a year and a half.
Now you know why some people think rats are the perfect pets. Rats are intelligent, affectionate, and easy to care for. Pet rats bond with their owners, can learn tricks, and can even be litter-box trained. Although a rat’s life span is difficult to estimate, if you do your best, you can appreciate the joy of rat snuggles for as long as they last.